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Dario kissing the bricks at Indy.  Photo by Brady Whitesel,
Dario kissing the bricks at Indy. Photo by Brady Whitesel,
May 30th 2010 - By:  Mark W. Theisen

     INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA May 30, 2010:  Even though he was the dominant car all day long it took last minute fuel conservation to enable Dario Franchitti to win today’s 94th running of the Indianapolis 500 at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the Memorial Day classic ended with its usual high drama as fuel management shuffled the finish and a horrendous crash on the final lap caused the race to end under the caution flag.
     Franchitti, the 2007 winner of the 500, powered his Target Chip Ganassi racer from his outside front row starting position to the lead at the end of the first lap to be the first of many drivers to make a statement on what turned out to be a hot and humid day in Indianapolis.
     Just at last year, the first lap of the race could not be completed without a caution flag as Davey Hamilton spun in the second turn after being forced down on the track by Tomas Scheckter.  Hamilton, who started 14th, had the distinction of being the first out of the race suffering his worst finish in 10 starts here.
     Franchitti again pulled away from his fellow front row starters Helio Castroneves and Will Power on the lap 8 restart as the bright red Target car continued to show its prowess but only three laps could be recorded before the field was again brought under the caution for a spin by Bruno Junqueira in the second turn.  The racing was incredibly intense despite it being so early in the race as Junqueira bobbled entering the turn along side several cars, corrected that but then lost it as he was exiting the turn.
     Green flag racing resumed on lap 11 and again it was Franchitti in the lead over Castroneves and Power and as the laps wore on the field became stretched out but it was evident that several drivers were on the move including Ed Carpenter, Ryan Briscoe, Towsend Bell, Alex Tagliani and Marco Andretti in addition to Tony Kanaan, who started the race dead last due to problems encountered in practice last weekend, and was out to prove that the problems encountered then causing him to start out of the top 6 for the first time in his career at Indy, were not typical and that he would have to be reckoned before this day was over.
     The first round of green flag pit stops began on lap 36 and it was the first of several miscues in the pits for the powerful Penske racing team that had been so dominant here in the past.  Power, who at the time was running down Franchitti, made his first pit stop and in his haste to leave left the pit with his fuel hose still attached to the car.  That mistake resulted in a penalty and Power had to come back into his pit for a second stop that put him at the end of the lead lap.
     In addition when the fuel hose finally fell off the car it caused the third caution which allowed the field to tighten up behind Franchitti who resumed the top position after all the pit stops were completed.
     The field was pit back under the green on lap 43 with Franchitti leading Castroneves, Tagliani, Raphael Matos and Briscoe.  After serving his penalty Power found himself running 25th.
     With the field again bunched up the racing became intense and John Andretti was black flagged when he blocked a pass attempt by Dan Weldon while the two raced down the front straightaway.
     John Andretti came into the pits to serve his penalty on lap 55 and then, while trying to stay on the lead lap, scrubbed the wall in the second turn on lap 65 to bring out the 4th caution of the race sending the cars back to the pits.
      Scott Dixon, Franchitti’s teammate on the Target Team, entered the pits seventh and left in 24th after losing the left front wheel on his car and Matos, whose was fifth lost the left rear wheel during his stop to wind up 23rd on the ensuing restart as the pit problems continued to pile up for all the team competing this day.  
     Matos’ problems continued to worsen as two laps into the restart he suffered suspension failure in the first turn hitting the Safer barrier in the turn and then continuing on down the wall into the second turn ending what looked like a prosing day for a driver who collided with Marco Andretti on the first lap of last years race to put them both out without recording a lap in that event.
     Franchitti continued to rule the race as green flag racing resume on lap 79 with Castroneves, Briscoe, Carpenter and Kanaan in pursuit.  It took Kanaan 79 laps and 5 cautions to move from the back to the top five and is day was not even half over.
     100 laps or halfway through the race it was Franchitti, Castroneves, Briscoe, Carpenter and Kanaan with Scheckter, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Power, Bell and Wheldon rounding out the top 10.
     Caution number 6 was waived on lap 106 when Vitor Meira, who suffered a broken vertebra in a crash here last year, brushed the wall with the right side of his car causing enough suspension damage to put him out of the race.  Just prior to the yellow Graham Rahal and Scheckter had made pits stops so when the rest of the field made their stops they found them in front as racing resumed on lap 112.
     Franchitti led Kanaan out of the pits and two laps into the restart the pair moved past Scheckter and now Kanaan was in second just one spot away from completing the remarkable task of coming from last to first at Indy.
    Green flag pit stops began on lap 140 and the day’s problems continued to get worse for the defending and three time 500 winner, Castroneves.  His car was not as stable as it normally here and then in and effort to get off the pit quickly Castroneves stalled the engine on his car resulting in a pit stop of over 15 seconds that put him far back in the running order.
    With Power’s earlier problems and now Castroneves the third Penske driver, Briscoe now looked like the best hope for the team.  Penske usually has his drivers on different strategies’ during the race to protect a chance for a victory.  Briscoe was on a fuel strategy and with his car getting five to six more laps than the rest it looked as though he would prevail at the end because he would have to make a much shorter final stop that the rest.
      That strategy went out the window just one lap after that stop as he hit the wall coming out of the fourth turn heavily damaging his car and putting him out of the race as the yellow flew for the 7th time.
     The leaders than all made a stop under green with Franchitti leading Marco Andretti, Kanaan, Scheckter and Bell on the restart.
     But only 6 laps could be recorded before Sebastian Saavedra lost control of his car in the first turn to bring out yellow number eight.
     Penske, always the strategist, then left Castroneves on the track as the leaders once again made stops, in order to gain back lost track position.  Mike Conway, Justin Wilson and Rahal also elected to stay on the track having just pitted and to also improve their position.
     Franchitti continued to have a flawless day in the pits coming out ahead of those who stopped but now he found himself in fifth position with just 34 laps remaining with the dreaded “fuel mileage” equation now entering the picture.
      As it took track crews several laps to clean the track of debris Penske brought Castroneves back into the pits twice before the green came back in an effort to try and make it to the end of the race without stopping again.
     Conway, Wilson, Castroneves and Rahal paced the race from the restart on lap 166 with Franchitti, Kanaan, Marco Andretti and Scheckter right behind.
     If the race stayed under green it was assumed the top four would have to stop but it would also be close for the rest of the top 10 even though they had more fuel than them.
     The crew chief’s of all those behind the front running four told their drivers to give them better mileage.  This meant drafting, backing off early and generally going slower, a tough sell the drives that are going fast.
     Without that needed caution Conway was the first to pull off the track on lap 178.  Wilson was the next to run low and stopped on lap 190 with Castroneves now in a position to become the second driver to win two Indy 500’s in a row and the fourth to win four overall, as he took the lead.
     But after going over the fuel charts it was deemed that Castroneves did indeed, need to stop and he did so on lap 192 giving the lead back to Franchitti as Rahal had also made his stop when Wilson did.
     Now the question was ‘who of the rest had enough gas to make it to the end’?   Kanaan was the first to answer that when he pulled off the track on lap 196 to end his yeoman attempt.  His sputtering car needed just a splash of gas to finish and he would up 11th at the end.
     With Kanaan’s stop Wheldon now took over second but he was still four seconds behind Franchitti but Franchitti was going ever slower on the track as he crew continued to monitor his fuel consumption while trying to keep with the rest of the cars behind him/
     Marco Andretti, Dixon, Hunter-Reay, Alex Lloyd, and Danica Patrick had all moved to within striking distance of Franchitti as the laps wore down.
     The race came to an abrupt conclusion on the white flag lap when Conway went up over the rear wheel of Hunter-Reay’s car sending his car up in the air, flipping over, and them slamming into the catch fence before disintegrating into pieces out of the fourth turn.  Conway suffered orthopedic injuries to his right left and was airlifted to Methodist Hospital for treatment, he was awake and alert.  Hunter-Reay was not injured while two spectators were treated for lacerations suffered when they were hit by debris from the Conway vehicle.
     This brought out the yellow flag, freezing the field, giving Franchitti his second Indy 500 triumph in three years.  Wheldon, who was closing fast, finished second for the second straight year with Marco Andretti taking third followed by Lloyd, Dixon and Patrick.  Andretti’s finishing position was not decided until over an hour after the race. Announced as 6th he was moved to third when it was determined he slowed to meet the speed of the pace car and was passed by three cars when in fact his position should have been frozen.
     “Up until 10 laps to go,” said Franchitti on the victory podium, “I was pretty relaxed as the crew assured me the cars in front had to stop and I should try and save some fuel.  Then all hell broke loose with fuel savings and all.  I just needed to know what the other guys were doing.  If they were saving more than me, they were doing something special here.  This means so much to win again.”
     Franchitti retuned to the Target team last year after a year in NASCAR and won the IZOD Indy Car series title and now followed it up with his second Indy 500 win to make his car owner, Chip Ganassi, the first car owner to win the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 in the same year.  In February Jamie McMurray won the Daytona race in a Chevrolet co-owned by Ganassi, Felix Sabates and Theresa Earnhardt.  Penske is the only other owner to win both races but did not do so in the same year.
     Ganassi refused to gloat on the duel wins this year.  “Sometime down the road we may look back at this and enjoy what we did, but we take each race one at a time,” said Ganassi.  “This is great for the team and it was a team effort.  We just have to be prepared and today we were and it worked out for us.”
     Team chew chief, Mike Hull, also credited the team with not only Franchitti’s win but also the huge turn around for Dixon.  “When Scott (Dixon) dropped to 24th I told him that Tony (Kanaan) came from the back and you can too and with good pit stops and good strategy we did just that.  Our team has been together for a long time, they know their jobs and do not get down, they persevered today and I’m proud of them all.”
     After his second runner-up finish at Indy and the third time in a row that his team, Panther Racing, had finished second in the 500 Wheldon said, “If I have to keep coming back here until I’m 85 I’m going to win this thing again.  We have been so close and we kept getting better and better as the race wore on.” Asked if he had enough to fuel to catch Franchitti if the race finished under green, Wheldon said, “We did, did he? My crew assured me I was good to go, it was just a question if he was able and we’ll never know the answer to that question.  It was a great day for us and for our sponsor, the National Guard, and all the servicemen and women around the world that support this team.”
     “In my mind, it’s a pretty well-written rule that you can’t pass under yellow,” said Marco Andretti after his protest of a sixth place finish was awarded.  “I was holding pace car speed.  I’m talking to my team on the radio and there goes three people by me.  The car did not shut down until turn one after the checkered.  I was under power for sure and that was upheld.”
     Marco Andretti was one of the five Andretti Autosport teams in the race, and who all came under severe criticism for poor performance during qualifying turned it up on race day.  Patrick, who finished sixth, summed it up best.  “The strength of this team is on race day.  They set the cars for the race and you saw the results today.  Tony (Kanaan) came from last and Ryan (Hunter-Reay) ran well until the end,” said Patrick.  “The teams and my team in particular gave great pit stops.  They picked up many positions for me, I only wish I could have passed as many cars as positions they gained me.”
     Lloyd’s fourth place finish was his best in three Indy attempts and again gave credibility to a young driver who had good rides each of his first two years only to come up short.  “This was a great day for us,” said Lloyd.  “We stayed out of trouble and good strategy gave us this finish.”
     Dixon credited his crew for hanging in with him for a solid finish.  “I was just hanging around the first half of the race,” said Dixon.  “We were getting our car better and than I left before the wheel was on and that was about it.  It was a great day for the team with Dario winning.”
     Power was the highest finishing Penske driver in 8th as Castroneves was denied in his quest to become the first driver to win the 500 twice in a row.
     Patrick was the highest finishing female driver of the four in the race with Simona de Silvestro taking 14th, Ana Beatriz in 21st while Sarah Fisher exited the race on the 75th lap after brushing the wall and damaging the suspension of her race car.
     Carpenter finished 17th after running in the top five for most of the race getting victimized by the fuel mileage situation.
     The crowd was not up to normal Indy standards but those attending were treated to an excellent race that was, despite being dominated by Franchitti, exciting to the end.